Moving Iraq Forward

By: Greg C. Reeson

In its just published Third Quarter Forecast for 2007, private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) predicts that the governments of the United States and Iran “…are now closer than ever to reaching an agreement…” on Iraq. If such a deal is indeed finalized, STRATFOR expects Iraq to “…become somewhat ordered near the quarter’s end….” If no agreement can be reached, however, the analysts in downtown Austin foresee full-blown violence that will likely last for several more years.

As things stand now, I believe the likelihood of any U.S.-Iranian pact on Iraq will be sabotaged not by the negotiating parties from Washington and Tehran, but rather by the Iraqis themselves. Thus far it has been the Iraqis that have been the main obstacle to peace, regardless of what the United States and Iran may want to see happen. It is true that foreign fighters have played a role in the continuing violence, making grand efforts to stoke sectarian conflict by attacking Sunni and Shi’a Iraqi civilians indiscriminately. And it is equally true that Iraq has become a central front in the Global War on Terrorism since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. But the main source of the fighting does not stem from the multitude of terrorist organizations operating within Iraq’s borders. The chief fomenters of violence are Iraqis, and they are killing each other by the tens of thousands.

Why is this happening? Why would Iraqis insist on sectarian warfare that prevents national reconciliation and the possibility of a stable and secure nation? I suspect that it is because the Iraqis themselves have no real desire to get along with each other and to move the country forward. There is a deep-seated hatred between the three main ethnic groups, a hatred that was violently suppressed under Saddam’s ruthless dictatorship, and none of the fighting parties have thus far been willing to take any meaningful action to end the cycle of violence that is preventing political progress and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

There has been some progress in al-Anbar Province, where some Sunni leaders have joined together with coalition forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. And there have been some initial signs of success in Baghdad, where General Petraeus says he sees “astonishing signs of normalcy.” But significant numbers of Sunnis still attack American and Iraqi troops and Shi’a militias still roam the streets like vigilante death squads, conducting mass executions and terrorizing the populace. The Syrian border remains porous, with foreign fighters flocking to Iraq to take on American troops. And the Kurds, who have thus far managed to avoid much of the conflict plaguing Iraq, are becoming progressively more vocal in their demands for increased regional autonomy and resolution of the status of oil-rich Kirkuk.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is barely functioning, and the police and army forces have been thoroughly infiltrated by sectarian militias more loyal to tribe and sheikh than to the authorities in Baghdad. The population is not secure, and the people refuse to put their faith and trust in a government that cannot protect them. The outlook is grim, but the war is not yet lost.

The final troops involved in President Bush’s security plan for greater Baghdad and al-Anbar Province are now in place and the “surge,” announced in January, is just now getting fully underway. The purpose of the “surge,” to remind readers, is to provide the Iraqi leaders in Baghdad a level of security that will facilitate political progress among the major fighting factions. This means that al-Maliki’s government must get control of the militias, and it must resolve the issues of de-Baathification, revenue sharing, regional autonomy, and minority representation in the government.

But above all, it means that Iraqis have to step up to the plate, now more than ever, and demonstrate that they are willing to live together first as Iraqis, and second as Shi’a, Sunni, or Kurd. Time is running out, and the American public’s will to keep up the fight is quickly fading. The will of the Congress is already gone. The consequences of failure have been pushed aside in favor of getting out of this mess as quickly as possible.

And while the United States and Iran may reach an agreement on the future of Iraq, it will be meaningless unless Iraqis can take control of their future, moving beyond sectarian division and toward a peaceful and prosperous Iraq that can serve as an example for the rest of the region.

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